As President Obama met Tuesday with the defense ministers of 21 nations to strategize against ISIS, the terror state in the making extended its murder spree with jihadis from that many countries and more.
The same way that the fight for the Spanish Republic in the 1930s drew romantic idealists from all over the world, the jihad for an Islamic caliphate is attracting psychopathic losers from seemingly everywhere.
These vile volunteers from at least 25 nations include not just the British-accented monster who has been videoed beheading Western hostages, but a fighter who sounds distinctly Trinidadian.
That fighter’s name is Shane Crawford, and he is one of at least four Trinidadian jihadis fighting with ISIS. He is the central figure in a video that is on one level more disturbing than the ones showing the beheadings.
In this other video, 29-year-old Crawford is not committing an atrocity such as might be expected of ISIS. He is instead frolicking with his pals in the Euphrates River as if they were not a crowd of murderers but simply a bunch of frat bros.
“It’s not that bad,” exclaims Crawford, aka Asadullah. “When you come out, you not feeling cold again!”
His giddy glee turns sickening when you consider the coldhearted inhumanity that necessarily lies beneath. He surely knows of his group’s unending beheadings and mass executions.
“I made ghusul in the Euphrates!” he boasts.
Ghusul is a ritual cleansing from head to toe, in this instance performed with all the solemnity of a trip to a water park. He exuberantly announces this winter day’s Celsius temperature.
“Minus one degree!”
Another fighter has on a black mask such as a beheader would wear and now begins to undress to join Crawford and their pals. Crawford leads them in plunging back into the river whose waters fed the first civilization. They whoop just as if they were partying and then call out just as they might at an execution:
That they would give the same cry in mirth as they would in murder makes you think that they are propelled not by fervent faith but by some twisted desire for excitement, be it diving into a historic river or hacking off somebody’s head.
In another ISIS video, the central figure’s identity is more difficult to discern. But the accent is just as clearly Trinidadian as he cracks jokes about a severed head he holds by the hair in his right hand.
“See, he doesn’t smile today,” the Trini-terrorist says of the victim. “This guy died of natural causes—by a knife. It cut this throat. Natural causes for an apostate.”
He tosses the head aside and there comes the same cry heard by the river:
A third ISIS video shows another man with a Trinidadian accent, a child on his hip. He grins as if all his hopes had been realized.
“I’m thinking like I’m in a dream world,” he says. “You have to be there to understand what I’m saying. Please, all believers come… as soon as possible!”
Beside that man is yet another Trinidadian, widely identified as Shazam Mohammed. Shazo, as he is known, is said to have resided for a time in the United States before being deported back to Trinidad. He now stands in the self-proclaimed caliphate, also holding a child as well as an automatic weapon.
And then there is the ISIS video of Crawford splashing in the Euphrates as if he were a kid again. He had been only 5 years old in 1990, when an extremist group called Jamaat al Muslimeen stormed a Trinidad and Tobago government building and took the prime minister hostage. The ensuing six-day standoff left 24 people dead.
The surviving extremists were pardoned and are said to have become involved in political thuggery, exerting more influence than might be expected in a country where only 6 percent of population is Muslim. They continued to offer a sense of purpose to aimless youth such as Crawford, who is said to have converted to Islam after graduating from high school.
In 2010, Crawford was arrested along with two other men for possession of an automatic pistol and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. He was freed on bail but detained again in 2011, when the government declared a state of emergency in a bid to crack down on violent crime.
For two weeks, Crawford was held on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. There was talk of a “secret camp” where former soldiers and cops trained with extremists such as Crawford.
Talk is not proof, and Crawford was released without being charged. He nonetheless found himself something of a pariah, and when he was unable to find a job, he sold fish in the street. His mother, Joan, would later tell the local Sunday Express: “You know how difficult it is for him to get a work after his own country branded him a terrorist? Wanting to kill his own prime minister?”
Last November, Crawford sold his van and his big-screen television. He used the cash to fly off to join ISIS, reportedly accompanied by one of his two wives and both of his co-defendants from the gun case.
He was able to communicate with his mother back in Trinidad via Facebook until his page was taken down. They remained in touch via Skype.
In January, the Euphrates video was posted, and his mother seems to have seen only a son who was happy and healthy, not a member of a huge and monstrous murder gang. He subsequently told her that the cellphone used to film the scene had been lost in battle.
He and his fellow Trinidadians, along with jihadis from at least 24 other countries, continued to fight with the fervor of people working out their particular pathologies. They gave sudden meaning to their lives by dealing out violent death.
Some have ascribed ISIS’s present successes despite coalition airstrikes to the leadership of former Iraqi army officers with considerable experience fighting, first the war with the Iranians and then protracted insurgency against the Americans.
And ISIS no doubt has greatly benefited from the sorry condition of the present Iraqi army. ISIS also had made use of its bounty of captured American equipment.
But all that is not what has made ISIS so formidable and, thus far anyway, more than a match for the American-led coalition. The power of ISIS is the collective force of so many losers from so many countries who are so willing to risk all to feel like winners.
This power does not reside in how ISIS manages to horrify us, in the joy its psychos take while committing the most ghastly murders, in how hot they are for coldblooded killing.
Its power ultimately derives from how unhorrified its frontline fighters are at the prospect of their own deaths. What scares them is the prospect of returning to the lives such as they led before jihad.
“Anybody who left for Syria, they are not coming back here,” Crawford’s mother told the Sunday Express.
However many of them are killed, the ones who survive will keep pushing on into Kobani and on toward the Baghdad airport feeling as alive as if they had just plunged into the river of history itself. And they will keep telling themselves that this river flows with the blood of the non-believers.
“His life is better,” Crawford’s mother told the newspaper. “He has purpose.”